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Aurelie Altemaire "Judge me on food, not gender"

French-born, working in the United Kingdom for decades, Aurelie Altemaire is now executive chef at new restaurant BOKAN, in the Novotel London Canary Wharf. Despite a great career path, Aurelie feels that women in charge of restaurant kitchens are still defined by their gender over their achievements… A true call for more equality!

You are one of the few female chefs in London… How do you feel about that?

It's good to be mentioned, but at some point it is frustrating because you don't know where you compare if people look at you only as a chef, and not as a "female chef". I want to be looked at for the work I can accomplish before all.
If people spoke more about my food, my food style, rather than talking about my gender it would be more gratifying. I would feel more accomplishment for what I am doing, rather than talking about who I am.

So, do you think that your gender influenced the grade you have today?

I'm not sure. I just want to work really hard and do my best. Yes, I am always asked the question about being a female in the industry, but for me I never saw myself any differently in the kitchen.

And what about the professionals who work with you? Do they see you differently because you are a woman?

I never had an issue with my staff. But you feel like you always have to work harder to show everyone you're better. If you take a male chef, everybody will respect that person because he is a chef.
It doesn't work that way with female chefs. I feel you have to earn the respect with your work, so I have to work a lot to show everybody it is not a mistake that I am where I am.

So, being judge on your gender, and not your work, is a reality you are living for years… Do you think it would come from stereotypes?

It's a question of perception, yes. People have an idea of what a 'chef' is. Maybe being chef seems like a very hard job too… But I never found that myself, in fact, I never had any issues in the kitchen.

How could we change the perception that it is more of an achievement for a woman to reach the top than a man?

The first way to change mentalities is to have more women doing it. If there were more women head chefs it would be less special and feel more normal. That would make gender less important to people. But it's a long way off from changing. I don't know how long that will be… What I can say, that it is already equality in my kitchen!

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Paris, France

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